Confusion about the End
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.”- 2 Thessalonians 2:1–2
All too often, many of us look on certain eras of the past as a sort of golden age. Lamenting the degradation we see in the culture, we may look on the past with rose-colored glasses, believing that if we could just get back to the way things were, all would be well. Of course, we cannot deny that some things of value from the past have been lost as time has marched on. Western culture has changed, in many ways not for the better. Still, we must be careful not to romanticize the past. Since the fall of mankind, no era of history has been without its sin and problems.
In the church, we often look on the first century as a type of golden age for the church. After all, the Apostles ministered in truth and power, so things must have been so much better, right? Certainly, there were benefits to having the Apostles around that we do not enjoy in this era of redemptive history. However, the Apostolic era was no golden age. The Apostles, no less than us, had to deal with sin and false teaching in the church. In fact, one of the reasons Paul wrote his second epistle to the Thessalonians was to combat false teaching.
The Apostle begins to address this erroneous instruction in today’s passage. There is some uncertainty regarding the teaching that he opposes, but we know that it has something to do with the return of Jesus and the catching of believers to meet Him in the air (2 Thess. 2:1). Paul dealt with this issue at length in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11, but some confusion remained regarding the eschaton (the last day) in the interim between the Thessalonians’ receiving Paul’s first epistle and the Apostle’s writing the second. The Thessalonians had heard that “the day of the Lord has come” (2 Thess. 2:2). Commentators are not sure what this means. Some suggest that someone had taught the Thessalonians that the entire complex of the events of the last day had begun but that Christ had not yet returned. Others believe that some people were teaching a false doctrine like the one that was current among the first-century Corinthian Christians—that the final resurrection had already happened in a spiritual sense and that there was no future bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12). Whatever the case, Paul sets out to correct the Thessalonians, letting them know that the return of Christ had not yet come when he wrote his second letter to them.
The false teaching that troubled the Thessalonians apparently came to them in a letter purporting to be from Paul and from a supposed “spoken word” of prophecy (2 Thess. 2:1–2). This reminds us that many people will try to speak in the name of the Lord or one of His Apostles when they deliver false teaching. The only way we can keep from being deceived is to test the teaching we hear according to the Word of God.
Passages for Further Study
1 Thessalonians 5:20–21